PCAC Statement – Jan 26, 2011 – Winter Weather Response


Statement of the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the MTA

Before the MTA Board

January 26, 2011


I am William Henderson, Executive Director of the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the MTA.  The PCAC was established by the State Legislature to serve as the coordinating organization for three riders councils created by the state in 1981.

We are anxious to hear the presentation today on winter weather response in today’s Board meeting.  As the operating agencies have already acknowledged, elements of the response to the December blizzard have ample room for improvement and we believe that a vigorous and comprehensive intra- and inter-agency assessment of the response is warranted.  Today’s presentation in a public forum is a positive step, and we believe that the results and recommendations of this assessment should likewise be made public as they are developed.

The winter storms that we have experienced over the last month highlight the need for an intensive communication effort on the part of the MTA and its operating agencies.   One element of this effort involves communication internal to the agencies and the MTA family and another involves communication with public safety and other appropriate agencies of local government.  Of primary concern to the PCAC is the communication of the MTA and its agencies with the riders that they serve.  The riders of our buses, subways, and commuter railroads are in general extremely resilient and can adapt to changes in operations, but they must know what to expect in terms of service.

Communication must make use of a number of channels, as not all riders receive information in the same way, or even in the same languages.  It is crucial that the MTA website provide accurate and actionable information and that web based alert systems and social media initiatives do the same. Other riders get information through broadcast media and announcements within the system itself and these channels must be maintained.   We would like to see the display screens in subways and rail stations, as well as advertising displays at subway station entrances, used to provide service information as well.  With the emergence of new communication media and technologies, there are many opportunities to connect with the riders.

It’s also important that riders know what to expect in advance; information on the implications of severe winter storms for bus, subway, and commuter rail service should be readily accessible to riders in advance of storms.  Too much confusion was caused by unexplained terms such as “limited service;” we believe that the winter storm emergency schedule being developed by the Long Island Rail Road is a step in the right direction in letting riders know what to expect.

We look forward to an open dialogue on the means in which riders can be best informed of potential disruptions to service in case of winter storms. While there may be a level of information that might produce “announcement fatigue”, I would rather hear some of our riders complain about receiving too many announcements than have riders put in harm’s way because they have not received vital information.